Vital Signs

Legal Insanity

"Knowing that religion does not furnish grosser bigots than law, I expect little from old judges."
—Thomas Jefferson

A society governed by the judiciary—rather than by the will of the majority—displays odd characteristics. On July 29, 1994, a seven-year-old girl in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, was sexually assaulted and murdered. A neighbor who is a twice-convicted sex offender has been charged in her death. In response to this crime, the state enacted legislation requiring that a community be notified when sex offenders are released into it. In 1984, Carlos Diaz pleaded guilty to raping a 20-year-old Garfield, New Jersey, woman in Teterboro. Two days after Mr. Diaz's release from prison. Federal Judge John W. Bissell exempted him from "Megan's Law." The judge found that the law could have a "punitive impact" on Mr. Diaz. Judge Bissell said he was sympathetic with the legislature's intentions, but added that the Constitution "has stood for centuries as a reservoir for individual rights." He found, as the New York Times reported, that "the harm Mr. Diaz would face through the notification provisions was greater than the threat the community faced by not invoking them."

On October 7, 1994, a Federal District Judge in Colorado ruled that an inmate serving a ten-year sentence for kidnapping...

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